As a budget traveller I pride myself in my ability to find a good deal, so it is very frustrating for me to write this post. When I decided to travel through Europe everyone told me ‘you’ve got to buy a Eurail pass! It’s the best way to see the area!’. I was also told that, if you are travelling both on the fly and for a longer period of time (say 2 months or more), then it’s best to get a Global Pass, which allows you access to virtually the whole European train network.
Despite all this advice, a Eurail pass is a BIG investment so I still wasn’t sure about the purchase and did a bunch of research online. The unanimous opinion on the websites and blog posts that I read confirmed that getting a Eurail Global Pass would save me a lot of money and that using it would be the most convenient way to get around Europe.
I am currently writing this post as I sit on the train from Berlin to Munich and all I can say is that everything I was told was I lie! Well, not everything, but I certainly regret purchasing my Eurail Global pass and below I explain the reasons why. Perhaps you all can learn from some of my mistakes. 🙂
What is the Eurail pass?
Before I get into why the Eurail pass is not the best option for travelling Europe let me first explain what the pass is exactly. The Eurail pass is a train ticket that allows you access to a majority of Europe’s intercity rail network. It is valid across 28 different European countries and customers can purchase a variety of different ticket types, including the:
a) One country pass:
Starting from €60, this pass gives travellers a certain number of travel days to use over a 1-month period. E.g. The pass for Italy, which is one of the most popular, will currently set you back between €198 for 3 travel days over a month (€66 per day) to €369 for 8 days of travel (€46 per day).
b) Select pass:
From €130, this pass lets you travel freely between the 2-4 bordering countries of your choice. It works the same way as the one country pass, whereby you simply purchase a certain number of travel days, however, these can be used over a longer 2-month period instead. The most popular Select Pass, covering France, Italy, Switzerland and Germany, will currently set you back between €336 – €487 for 5-10 travel days.
c) Global pass:
The most popular pass for those backpacking through Europe is the Eurail Global Pass, which gives travellers access to the entire train network for a set fee. Travellers can either purchase a flexi pass with a set number of travel days over a set time period (e.g. 5 or 7 days over 1 month or 10 or 15 days over 2 months) or pay more to get a continuous pass, which allows you unlimited train travel for periods ranging from 15 days to 2 months in total. Prices range from €459 for the cheapest (5 travel days within 1 month) to a whopping €1609 for 3-months of continuous travel.
I personally purchased the Eurail Global Flexi Pass, which gave me 10 days of travel over a 2-month period. It cost me AUD$1073, which converts to approximately €687 (i.e. €69 per train ride)
6 reasons you shouldn’t buy a Eurail Pass
1. You are under 26 years old
If you’re 25 or under you can get quite a significant youth discount of 35% by choosing to travel second class. If I was only a few years younger, the pass that cost me €687 drops down to only €450. But alas, unfortunately this option isn’t available to us oldies like me, who can only travel first class.
2. You are travelling solo
Likewise, those who are travelling in groups of 2-5 are also entitled to a 15% discount on their ticket price. Had I been travelling with a friend, my ticket would have dropped down to €584, which is not insignificant when you’re on the road. The only catch is that you and your BFF / lover / friend(s) must always travel on the same ticket, so you probably want to be sure that you and your buddy will stay together the whole time. Otherwise, things could get real awkward, real fast.
3. Buses in Europe are CHEAP
The main reason I regret purchasing my Eurail Pass is because buses in Europe are extremely cheap. For example, today I am using my rail pass to get from Berlin to Munich at a cost of €69. However, I could have taken a bus instead for only €10! Freaking €10! Other buses are even cheaper – for example I travelled throughout the UK (London – Bath – Bristol – Cardiff – Manchester – Edinburgh – Glasgow – Edinburgh – Inverness – Edinburgh – London) for a total of £35 (€45).
Across continental Europe most buses I have taken so far have been around €5 each. Some of them are even as low as €1 if you buy them a couple of weeks in advance! Sure the bus usually takes a bit longer, but usually not by that much. Also what’s a couple of hours here and there when you’re saving €50+ on the price of a ticket? Many of the bus services are even direct, so don’t take that much longer anyway.
Pro tip: To find the cheapest way between European destinations I recommend using the website GoEuro. This site has a fantastic search engine that finds the cheapest and most convenient ways to travel across Europe, including buses, trains, flights and the car share service Bla Bla Car.
4. Buses in Europe are nice
Over the last few years, buses in Europe have really upped their game. While not all of them are the fanciest, every long distance bus I have taken has at the very least had toilet facilities and free WiFi. I don’t know about you guys, but as long as I have these two things I could spend all day on the bus – I use the time to contact friends back home, make travel plans and check out what to do in my next destination… Although some of the trains I have taken with my Eurail pass have had WiFi (especially in Scandinavia) many of them still don’t.
Some buses, however, are just downright fancy. When I got the bus from St Petersburg, Russia, to Riga, Latvia I was nervous about spending 11 hours on a cheap, crowded bus. But when I stepped onto the Lux Express bus I had booked I knew I was in for a treat. This bus was seriously luxurious, best compared to taking first class on a flight (or how I imagine it to be). There was plenty of leg room, entertainment units with all sorts of great movies and shows to choose from, free water when we boarded, and even a free coffee machine that made all sorts of drinks, including cappuccinos, lattes and hot chocolate. After weeks of rushing around travelling I was seriously in heaven when I got on this bus and was genuinely sad when I had to get off. I haven’t used the Student Agency bus company yet, but I understand it’s also pretty nice.
5. Reservation fees
Another setback of having a Eurail pass is that seat reservations on trains are often mandatory. I am yet to use my pass is France, but I understand that here the reservation fees can be as high as €30! So basically, it’s significantly cheaper to take a bus (about €5) than it is to even reserve a seat on a French train. Perhaps I should just throw all of my money out of the train window while I’m at it!
6. Point-to-point tickets are often cheaper
Europe is small (like, seriously small). In fact, the whole continent is so small that geographically it can fit inside Australia, a single country. For this reason, unless you’re travelling quite vast differences in a single day, it may even be cheaper to buy a point-to-point ticket the day before travelling than using up one of your precious, expensive Eurail travel days. For example, the train I am currently sitting on cost me €69 using my Eurail pass. If I had bought the ticket yesterday, it would have been about €75. However, if I had chosen to leave a bit earlier and get on the train departing around 8am instead, it would have only cost me €21. Basically, all my pass got me was a couple of extra hours sleep. There is always a cheaper way, we simply pay more for convenience.
3 reasons why you should get a Eurail pass
1. You are young and are/or are travelling as a couple or group
See point 1 above. Don’t let my bitterness about being old and single get to you. If you are eligible for these discounts then you may find it worthwhile to take full advantage of them.
2. Trains are convenient
Despite the great network of buses out there nowadays, taking the train is still usually the most convenient way of travelling Europe. Just hop on board, sit, relax, and within a few hours you will be in your destination, hopefully without too many transfers. The train can also save you a couple of hours travel time here and there, which can be quite valuable when you are travelling over a shorter period. Train stations are also located in convenient, inner city locations, so when you arrive at your destination it will be much easier / cheaper to get to your accommodation, especially if it’s within walking distance.
3. Train rides are pretty
The other reason Eurail passes are good is that they allow you to hop on some of the most beautiful, scenic train rides in the world, like the ones listed here. To make the most of my rail pass I am going to try to do as many of these as possible. I already did the one from Bergen to Oslo, which was beautiful, but sadly all I could see was thick white snow. Also sometimes there’s just nothing quite like the wonder of train travel, which is exactly why I devoted 139 hours of my life to doing the Trans-Siberian in October – an experience I will never forget.
Alternatives to getting a Eurail pass
If you want to travel Europe as cheaply as possible, then consider the following alternatives:
- Taking the bus
- Bla Bla Car
- Buying point-to-point train tickets, especially in advance
Although it’s not cheap, another option for travelling Europe is to get a Busabout pass, which allows you to hop-on / hop-off at a number of different European cities. It is also a great way to meet other travellers. Annoyingly, Busabout doesn’t operate this service in Europe over the winter months.
Tips for maximising your Eurail pass
If you do choose to get a Eurail pass, there are few ways you can maximise your return on investment. In particular:
a) Think long and hard before choosing what ticket to buy
Perhaps instead of getting a Global Pass you could instead purchase a Select Pass covering the most expensive countries / countries with the most scenic train rides, such as Switzerland, Austria and Italy. The rest of the countries you can simply get buses in between.
b) Follow the 7pm rule
A quirk of the Eurail pass is that if you take a direct night train that departs after 7pm and arrives after 4am the next day, you only have to claim the arrival date on your Eurail pass calendar. This ‘7pm rule’ gives you an extra 5 hours of travel for free and free stuff is awesome. When you arrive at your first destination, check your luggage into a locker at the station and spend the day walking around. Then, later in the day, get a train to your next destination. This effectively gives you two train rides for the price of one and also saves you the amount you would have spent on accommodation for the night. Some trains are also sleeper trains, but these require mandatory reservations. If you’re not travelling too far then this strategy also works if you get a train first thing in the morning.
c) Take trains without mandatory reservations
Reservations are expensive and, most of the time, aren’t even necessary. Use the Eurail Rail Planner app or Reservation Service webpage to figure out if you need to pay a reservation fee and, if you do, how much it will cost. Often, if you play around with dates and times a little bit you can find trains that don’t require any reservations. Unless you’re in France, then you’re stuck with them.
Well guys, if a Eurail Pass is something you have been considering buying then this is my advice to you. Have you used a Eurail Pass before? If so, how did you like it? What other ways have you travelled around Europe? Let me know in the comments section at the bottom of this page.